When Gianluca Cabitza’s parents broke the ‘exciting news’ that he would be spending the school holidays on the Gold Coast instead of Inverell, he imagined a fun-filled vacation of sight-seeing and relaxing on the sunny beaches.
What the 17-year-old did not anticipate was that he would be actually taking part in a nine-day military-style boot camp to help him build resilience, discipline and leadership skills, all while staying in a remote corner of the Gold Coast hinterland.
The intensive program involves teens and tweens getting back to nature and learning how to communicate without any technology, all while pushing their personal limits.
It is the brainchild of Veteran Mentors, a group of ex-servicemen and women who wanted to use their combat experience and military training to help children who are facing a range of issues such as technology addiction, bullying and low self-esteem.
Gianluca said he had been facing conflicts at home prior to coming on the camp.
“After hearing about the camp on the news, my parents and I thought it would be beneficial for me to take part in the program,” said Gianluca.
“I was having a few issues at home which involved arguments and unnecessary fights with my parents and I wanted to come here to try and work on ironing those problems out.”
Even after five days with the Veteran Mentors team, he said he felt ready to make improvements at home.
“I wasn’t feeling too great when I first arrived but as it has gone on I have quickly adapted to it,” said Gianluca.
“I am now enjoying myself – especially during the teamwork activities because I get to interact with and help other group members. “ Gianluca said when he returned home, he would be focused on becoming more organised.
“This program has taught me that a simple task like making your bed first thing in the morning is actually an important step towards being happier and more organised. It gives you a sense of accomplishment and that puts you in a good mood for the day ahead,” said Gianluca.
“I want to continue carrying out small tasks like this when I return home. By becoming more organised, I will be helping my parents and myself and I think it will help prevent conflicts that don’t need to happen.”
Former Australian Army Combat Engineer and now Director of Veteran Mentors Troy Methorst said he and the other military veterans were all about helping kids, just like Gianluca, become accountable for their behaviour and decisions.
“A group of us put our heads together and realised that we had knowledge and experience that could really help the younger generation,” said Troy, who served in Afghanistan and East Timor.
“Our programs are ideal for 12 to 17-year-old children demonstrating poor behaviours, low self-esteem, lack of respect, addiction to technology, issues with drugs and alcohol, or simply to propel them to reach their fullest potential.
“It can also help those who are anxious and struggling to find their place in this busy world. Some of the children who come on the program are facing difficulties at home – often with separated, divorced or seriously ill parents.”
He said the Veteran Mentors taught the children strategies and skills including mental and physical resilience, effective communication, conflict resolution and how to manage fear and stress.
“The experiences I gained from most during my operations were the sharing of a mission, achieving goals and bonding as a team. We are now focused on passing on those skills to the kids.
“We give these young people challenges that they must get through together as a team, helping them form cohesion among one another.
“Obviously we don’t teach them the combat skills - we replace those with other important skills such as how to deal with conflict and situations that are outside of their comfort zone.”
Troy said the Veteran Mentors April program was a huge success, with 40 participants.
“We saw a significant difference in each individual by the end of the program. And our follow-ups have proved that the program is genuinely transforming lives.
“This time we have 60 on the program and most of the sign-ups have come from word of mouth referrals – parents and carers telling others about the positive changes they are seeing every day in their children.”
The Veteran Mentors also do motivational speaking and smaller team building sessions at schools, as well as parent workshops. The next program is set to run from September 29 to October 7.